Israeli young soldiers teaching you how to travel long distances with heavy backpacks. The story of Land Navigations in the IDF.
Wednesday, 4:00 AM, Ginosar coast - north Israel.
"Very good, youre the first to arrive, put your equipment on the ground, take a rest, and if you want…take some peanuts." These words of my commander were the first I heard at the finish line of the last navigation of the week.
I put my hand in the bag and grabbed a few peanuts and started eating. All of a sudden, I felt a strange pain in my tongue. Maybe a sharp peanut? No…the pain was unbearable! maybe it was a piece of glass that found its way into the peanuts bag accidentally? I had to find out!
I held the piece that was stuck deep in my tongue and started pulling it out. Nothing. I stood and walked to the hummer's mirror in order to view the extent of the damage.
I couldn’t believe what I saw...
A giant ant was biting my tongue!!! I quickly went to my commander, starting yelling with an open mouth: " a gieant ant bitne my tnpge!!" (A giant ant bit my tongue!!) He took a step forward and tested my tongue carefully. "It's a bug" he said calmly. His help was somewhat less than outstanding. I had to do something with this ******** insect!
I took a Leatherman knife and started cutting the ant, until it released its grip, leaving me with a bloody tongue and a great story for my grandchildren.
This is actually my strongest memory from my "sea to sea" navigation week, more than 90 kilometers which is spread over 3 days. 3 days with 50% of your body weight on your back, completely alone, walking in the nights and resting in the days, no map, no accessories, only you with 90 kilometers of ridges, creeks, and valleys. And due to all that the ant story is my strongest memory?
Some soldiers claims that there are too many good reasons to forget the experience on the navigation itself.
I tend to disagree.
So, what is Land Navigations?
Land navigation is a type of a military training, aiming to impart on the soldiers navigational skills and orientation abilities. The general mission of the navigation is to arrive at the final coordinate point from the original (and pass through a few points between them), as fast and as safely as you can.
The points are usually represent landscape forms, like a peak of a hill or a split of two rivers, and when one arrives at his point, he need to collect a code from the spot in order to prove that he actually was there.
Sounds easy? Stick with me…
The basic form of the navigations are completely different from the advanced ones. The trails are shorter (about 5-10 kilometers a day), and it performed in couples, in daylight. This kind of navigation is very common in the army, and many soldiers can do it.
The advanced type of navigations for special units, are called "solitary navigation" and as you can understand from the name, the navigator is absolutely alone.
The trails length can reach more than 35 kilometers per night, and if it's not enough, this navigation is performed only at night, and of course – no map. Only a simple compass and healthy memory.
I finished my navigations period (as part of my training period in the paratroopers commando unit) on Wednesday, in the western coast of the Kineret sea in northern Israel.
But enough with the dry details for now, let's go back to the place where we stopped the story.
After the incident with my tongue, my heart went back to working as normal, and I rested in front of the eastern sea waiting to the sun to start shining.
I began to roll a cigarette according to an ancient tradition that I have adopted. The atmosphere after a long navigation belongs to the kind of atmospheres that inspired poets and writers throughout history. Slowly, I began to remember in many experiences that I had in the last period.
one sentence that my good friend Roi (who was waiting for the navigations weeks like a cat waiting for shower time) had always told me stucked in my mind and did'nt released. I remember his hurt and hungry face when he used to say: " Do you know what is the problem with navigations is? The world doesnt know, and thats why it doesnt care!"
He was absolutely right…the world must know!!
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step""
Despite this fascinating sentence of Tsu, the days when a journey used to begin in only one step, has passed long ago. Actually, they begin in the memorization stage, and it's not less critical than any other factor in the navigation, because, as we already said, the memory is our best friend.
So, how do you imagine soldiers learning to a navigation? Young guys concentrated above complicated maps and drinking hot coffee once a while in order to stay awake? Think again.
We will do anything but learning. After all, while the Israeli educated teenagers were kidnapped to the Cyber and intelligence professions, the hyperactive apes (us) received a rifle, pat on the back, and were sent to the field!
If you will try to watch soldiers learning to a navigation in their rooms, more likely to see bodies lying on the beds and cookies crumbs on the uniforms. Instead of Azimuth and distance, the hot topic is probably hot girls and South America – every soldiers dream.
But let's be realistic – eventually, we find some powers to memorize because everybody knows that the worst thing that can happen in a navigation is to get lost. With 50% body weight on your back, every wrong step in the wrong direction is critical, and the last thing that a navigator wants is to finish the navigation in the middle of the day, when the Israeli temperature can reach more than 30C.
IT IS NOT ONLY ABOUT ORIENTAION
"In the memorization stage, when you learn your trail to the smallest level, everything looks so simple and organized. For example, the lines which represent the height of the surface looks so elegant and sorted. But….when you arrive to the field, these lines becomes a giant mountains, with impassable bushes, cold wind, and blood Curdling howls"
A part from a friend's diary.
Unlike other professions involved learning and memorizing, this profession also have a very significant psychological side. The isolation in the nature gives you a lot of time to think, the cumulative fatigue generates hallucinations, and the mix of all the circumstances can be very hard to contain.
"That which does not kill us make us stronger, and what indeed kill us, make our mothers stronger"
Israeli military version of Friedrich Nietzsche
About 24 hours before the end of the navigations series, somewhere in the Galil mountains:
It's already been 4 hours since I started the navigation, and I can see for the first time, my final destination – Hazon mountain. I cannot recognize anything in the darkness, but according to the strong smell I'm assuming that Im surrounded by animals corpses.
I knew that before I start the climbing on the mount (3 hours at least), I supposed to reach "Tzalmon river", in only two hours. "If everything will go according to plan, I will arrive the peak before sunshine, earning some expensive sleeping hours before the next navigation".
I boosted myself and increased my steps.
With the time passing I became closer and closer to Tzalmon river, and the wind cooled the sweat on my uniform. From time to time I heard some wild boars running and hiding in the bushes. There was one problem – as I came closer to the river, the amount of the bushes increased until I realized that I could not make any progress!
I climbed again on the riverbank, panting heavily, still trying to find a path to cross the river. I had an idea. In the northern area of the river there is an Arab village. I knew that if I would find a way to that village maybe I will find some path to cross the river, and start the climbing to Hazon mountain.
I began to walk, led by the village lights. After approximately half an hour, I realized that This option was not relevant. The bushes were too dense rand i couldnt make it through to the village. I felt like I was losing my energy, both physically and mentally. Every needless step was a significant emotional weight. I tried the first option again, but the confrontation with the bushes was hopeless.
I felt strong frustration, and I found myself sitting on a bolder in complete despair. I imagined how I was going to stay in these bushes all night, and then I fell asleep.
"Gilad, Gilad, this is the commander, come in, over"…I woke up from the noise of the two way radio….
"Gilad, Gilad, this is the commander, give me a status report, over"…I listened to the conversation while I stretched my muscles, and tried to understand where i was, and how long I had slept.
"Commander, this is Gilad, I just passed Tzalmon river, starting to climb Hazom mountain, over"…I jumped and stood on my legs! Did I heard right? Gilad found a way…maybe he would be able to help me…
I took the two way radio starting…"Gilad, Gilad, this is Ron, over"…no answer. "Gilad, this is Ron"….no answer….I waited few minutes and the frustration started to fill me again until…"Ron, this is Gilad, come in, over"
"Gilad, this is Ron, my position is Tzalmon river, 200 feet south of the Arab village, looking for a path to cross the river, over"
"Ron, this is Gilad, I found a way about 350 feet south of the village, over" I heard the last message and felt in heaven…only 150 feet…it's not far at all…even very close…wait….whatre the odds…
Suddenly I heard Gilad very clear, too clear. I looked back and I saw a dark shadow walking in my direction.
A Few seconds later me and Gilad were standing in front of each other. We both knew what is the meaning of that meeting – Gilad never passed Tzalmon river. It was just a little riverbed, and now both of us were stuck under Hazon mount, and an impassable river separated between us. We camped out on the ground and fell asleep.
How did it ended? feel free to speculate...
If you're going through hell, keep going
Back to wednesday, 6:00 AM:
It had been already two hours since I finished the last navigation of the week (and my last navigation in the universe) and made it to Ginosar coast in Kineret sea. I was laying in a puddle of sweat, and woke up when a big bus parked next to me. The sun was shining above the Golan's mountains, and I could see the broken faces of the rest of the navigators for the first time.
I personally felt like a wounded animal.
During the navigation you don’t have time to think about the pain, but after a long stop, your body became cooler and you start to realized that you're f***g injured.
The blisters in my feet burned like hell. My muscle were completely strained. My waist were bleeding because of the friction with the backpack and my left shoulder almost came out of its place thanks to weight imbalance that had accumulated during the week.
I limped to the bus, and forced myself to stay awake. We all knew that a week in the training period can't just end like this.
And as I guessed, after 3 minute driving, the bus stop and produced the ghastly doors opening noise.
I looked out the window and saw the Arbel cliffs rising to their 400 meter height. It was so steep…but we were determined to make it, because every peak we conquer, is a new landscape that we achieve.